Kemp's ideas and legacy continue to be relevant for today's Republicans, even if few of them seem to recognize it. The financial meltdown and recession have given President Obama a chance to revive a policy mix of higher spending and taxes, intrusive regulation and easy money. If those policies don't result in a sustainable expansion -- and history argues that they won't -- then Americans will again be looking for other ideas.In Jack Kemp's last column he expressed his admiration for Abraham Lincoln ahead of the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth. And being Jack Kemp, he singled out for praise Lincoln's support for entrepreneurial capitalism.
Republicans will need to be ready with Kempian proposals to address middle-class economic anxieties and revive broadly shared prosperity. The GOP also needs a rhetoric and a demeanor that invite all Americans to its cause. The Kemp-Reagan message was rooted in ideas but it also appealed broadly across ages and incomes because of its buoyant temperament. Jack Kemp's admirable life shows that it is possible to be a populist intellectual and a capitalist for the common man.
For Abraham Lincoln, true welfare meant not dependency, but well-being; not equality of reward, but equality of opportunity; not reliance on the state, but reliance on oneself and one's family. He wrote, prophetically, "The progress by which the poor, honest, industrious and resolute man raises himself, that he may work on this own account and hire somebody else ... is the great principle for which this government was really formed."
Professor Gabor Boritt, in his great book "Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream," cited the rest of Lincoln's argument:
"I don't believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. ... I want every man to have the chance -- and I believe a black man is entitled to it -- in which he can better his condition -- when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system."
In the most "radical" speech Abraham Lincoln ever gave, he compared America to a house divided against itself, half-slave and half-free. I would submit that today America is once again in danger of being divided -- this time, however, into two economies, one rich, the other poor; one affluent, the other in abject poverty; one a springboard to opportunity, the other a trap of despair and dependency.
Lincoln understood that it is impossible to support equality of economic opportunity without also upholding equal civil, human and voting rights for all.